Music, art help deal with violence in Rio slum

In a small and crudely painted green room called “the bunker,” 18-year-old Lucas dos Santos da Cruz and his friends go over rhymes in their heads.

Soon they will be competing in freestyle rap battles on a poorly illuminated square in the “City of God,” one of Rio de Janeiro’s most notorious and violent slums. For the young men, rap is a way to express frustration with the violence that permeates their daily lives.

“City of God is like a small Syria and there is imminent risk of death,” said Cruz, sporting dreadlocks. “What we do here is resistance.”

To see how residents were dealing with an increase in violence in Rio’s favelas, an Associated Press team spent eight days with two families in the City of God, which was made famous by the 2002 Oscar-nominated film by the same name. Just a few miles from the Olympic Park, where the 2016 Rio Games were held, the slum offers few government services and shootouts between police and heavily armed drug traffickers are common.

While many teens participate in rap battles to deal with the stress of violence, others cope by learning a musical instrument, participating in capoeira dance circles or taking university prep classes in a community center. Still others create art or try to serve the most downtrodden among them, doing activities ranging from volunteering to cooking and offering free meals.

In this June 7, 2017 photo, children take a violin class in the City of God slum of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Residents in Rio are dealing with the stress of an uptick in violence around them through art, recreation and helping each other. Teens participate in rap battles, others are learning a musical instrument or participating in capoeira circles. Still others do art or try to serve the most downtrodden among them, doing activities ranging from volunteering to cooking and offering free meals. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Employees of the center haven’t been paid in three months, a situation common for thousands of workers in Rio state agencies. The center has remained open thanks to an extraordinary effort of volunteers, who believe closing it would be a devastating blow.

Isabela Maia, 10, says she gets nervous when her mother makes her and her 2-year-old sister come inside during a shooting. Her outlet is learning to play the violin.

“Music calms me down,” said Maia, who practices each afternoon after doing her homework.

Robson Luiz de Mendonca, 46, knows firsthand how life in a favela can consume loved ones. His son, 24, died in January of pulmonary problems after a crack addiction for many years.

“Residents of City of God are in a hurry — in a hurry for identity, in a hurry for dignity, in a hurry for true action, but (the government) does nothing,” said Mendonca, who is known in the neighborhood as MC Mingau thanks to his rapping and teaching of breakdancing.

Anayde dos Santos Muniz, 84, holds in her hand two bullets that she says recently hit her house near her bed. Singing, painting and writing poems and songs are outlets for her to deal with the violence.

“I wouldn’t trade City of God for anywhere,” said Muniz, who was among the first wave of residents to move into the favela in the 1960s. “I came from the suffering, I came from the mud.”

In this June 8, 2017 photo, rap artists engage in a rap battle in the City of God slum of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

In this June 8, 2017 photo, artist Anayde dos Santos Muniz holds two bullets that recently hit her home near her bed in the City of God slum of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

In this June 8, 2017 photo, Erik Franca, 25, stands outside the room where he and his friends produce music in the City of God slum of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Soon after they left what they call "the bunker," they went to a poorly illuminated square to compete in freestyle rap battles. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

In this June 8, 2017 photo, young women attend a night session of rap battles in the City of God slum of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

In this June 6, 2017 photo, homes stand at dusk in the City of God, one of Rio de Janeiro's most notorious and violent slums in Brazil. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

In this June 5, 2017 photo, Mike Leonardo de Jesus da Silva, 24, sings during a Copeira class at a community center kept open only by the extraordinary effort of residents of the City of God slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

In this June 5, 2017 photo, youths play soccer in the City of God slum of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

In this June 8, 2017 photo, a couple kiss on the sidelines of a night rap battle session in the City of God slum of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

In this June 5, 2017 photo, Isabela Maia plays the violin during class in the City of God slum of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

In this June 5, 2017 photo, youth warm up for soccer practice in the City of God slum of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

In this June 5, 2017 photo, boys embrace as they take a time-out from their Copeira class, assigned to them as a punishment for arguing, at a community center in the City of God slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

In this June 6, 2017 photo, rapper and breakdancing instructor Robson Luiz de Mendonca rests after playing basketball in the City of God slum of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

In this June 8, 2017 photo, Lucas dos Santos da Cruz, 18, center, talks with friends about the night's upcoming rap battle in the City of God slum of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

In this June 9, 2017 photo, Isabela Maia practices the violin as her mother works in the kitchen at their home in the City of God slum of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

In this June 6, 2017 photo, youth play basketball in the City of God slum of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

In this June 9, 2017 photo, artist Anayde dos Santos Muniz, affectionately known as "Tuca," poses for a portrait surrounded by her paintings inside her home in the City of God slum of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)


Text from the AP news story, AP PHOTOS: Music, art help del with violence in Rio Slumsby Yesica Fisch and Leo Correa.

Photos by Leo Correa

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